September 21, 2021
Note From Rochelle
I have a favor to ask you.
My new book Mightier than the Sword has been out for almost two months—and it needs some love. If you’ve read the book, please write a review and post it on Amazon, B&N, Goodreads, and Target. It takes just a moment to post your review, and it means a lot!
And whether you’ve read the book or not, please ask your local library and bookstores to carry Mightier than the Sword! Most libraries have a form online that you can use to request a book. If not, you can print out the blurb on the homepage of my website and share it with them: https://rochellemelander.com/
Today I’m delighted to welcome my fellow debut group member Alexandra Katona. You last heard from her back in July, when she contributed to our “How to Form a Debut Group” post. She’s here today to talk about her new book, Dinner on Domingos! This sweet book releases on October 11! If you want to make sure you have it for the holidays, preorder it now!
Writers@Work: Writing an #OwnVoices Story
An Interview with Alexandra Katona
Welcome to the blog! Can you tell us about your new book, Dinner on Domingos.
My book, Dinner on Domingos, is an ode to Sunday family dinners at my abuelita’s house. It explores the connectivity of food, but it also explores the ways a young girl tries to connect with her abuelita when she doesn’t speak much Spanish. And while I’m Ecuadorian, I hope it resonates with readers from all different backgrounds.
The official description:
“This magical home turns a normal Sunday into domingo: the best day of the week.” Warm memories wash over a first-generation Latinx American girl as she experiences a typical Sunday night dinner at her Abuelita’s house. As Alejandra thinks about all the good times her family has had there, she decides that she wants to be brave and try speaking Spanish with Abuelita so that they can deepen their bond. A timely #OwnVoices tale that reflects the experience of many American families.
What inspired you to write this book?
It’s kind of a long story. When I started seriously writing books for kids, I was writing a lot of nonfiction. In 2018 my agent and I were on sub for a series about women who should have made history. It happened to be a year full of biographies, and my series ultimately didn’t sell. I was discouraged, but I was happy to hear that more biographies were making their way into the world (lots of them are releasing this year and next).
So, I put it all aside and just started writing about my life. I’m Latinx, and as most of us are aware, the kidlit industry is striving to be more diverse but still has a ways to go. In 2018 the Cooperative Children’s Book Center found that only 5% of children’s literature represented Latinx characters. I wanted to help change that statistic.
At first, I wrote about my abuelita—I really focused on her. And then I started writing about a young girl making locro, an Andean soup, with her, and it was full of metaphors. Tons of drafts later, I thought about what really made my childhood special, and it was getting together with my huge, extended family on Sundays. So I just started writing about those dinners. The aromas, the noises, the chaos – everything it encompassed.
Eventually, I broke up my memories into different rooms of the house, since each room holds moments that are close to my heart. The family room was for fighting for the best spot with my primos and balancing food on laps. The dining room was for celebrating birthdays and looking through photo albums. The basement was for mischief and silly games with my primos. The story really evolved into this home that held so many memories for me, and a young girl’s desire to better learn a language to connect with her grandma.
What was your journey to publication like? Did you get an agent? Sell it on your own? Can you share that story—and maybe give some inspiration and advice for those of us struggling in the trenches?
My journey has been interesting, like most authors. I signed with the first agent I queried about my series, but ultimately, she wasn’t connecting with any of my fiction. It was incredibly disappointing since I didn’t want to solely write nonfiction. Eventually, we decided to part ways because I knew she stopped believing in my work – and truth be told, I had a lot more work to do as a children’s author.
The good thing was I believed in myself and kept writing. And polishing. And revising. Eventually, I was in a good spot with the manuscript but wanted to make it perfect. I worked with Dev Petty on a revision, and it all came together. I’m incredibly grateful for her words of encouragement—they came at a time when I needed to hear them.
Around the same time, I had participated in #DVpit, pitching my manuscript for Dinner on Domingos. I had one like from an agent (spoiler alert: they passed) and one from an editor, Lisa Rosinsky at Barefoot Books. I had sent her a previous draft of my book, which she declined, but said she’d be willing to look at another revision. I sent her the draft I had just polished with Dev, and they bought it the following month!
To this day, I haven’t signed with another agent. I’m still writing and polishing, and occasionally I’m in the trenches of querying. It takes time and patience for sure, but my biggest piece of advice is to believe in your work. It sounds cliche, but it’s very necessary! There are SO MANY NOs in this industry that you have to lift yourself up each and every day.
What have been your most helpful tools in developing as a picture book writer?
Practice, patience, and time. I read picture books all the time, and while I think it’s extremely important to read new work from the category in which you’re writing, strive to do it as uniquely as possible. Break rules. Write about what you love, not what’s trending. DO YOU.
How has being a part of a debut group helped you in your journey?
It’s provided a great network of wonderful individuals in the same position as me – and we’re all there to support and lift each other up.
What are you reading now?
I just finished The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J Klune and I loved it! I also read a lot of Spanish books with my 8-year-old son, since he’s in an immersion school. We’re currently reading Science Comics (in Spanish) along with a new graphic novel, Cosas Que Nunca Cambian by Richard Zela.
About the author
Alexandra Katona is a writer and a communications consultant for the specialty coffee industry. Dinner on Domingos is her debut picture book. When she’s not writing, you can find her on an outdoor adventure, swimming in the ocean, or cooking for her family. She lives with her husband, son, and dogs in Southern California, and believes in the connective power of food.
NOTE: The books links lead to the Write Now! Coach bookstore on Bookshop.com. Write Now! Coach receives a small percentage of your purchase, which helps to support this blog.